Sight Of This Defiled Land As A Pure Land In The Vimalakīrti Sūtra《维摩诘经》: 在此秽土见净土

Preceding Sūtra Text:

The Practices Of All Bodhisattvas For Establishing Pure Lands In The Vimalakīrti Sūtra

Sight Of This Defiled Land As A Pure Land In The Vimalakīrti Sūtra

In the Sūtra That [Is] Spoken [By] Vimalakīrti’s《维摩诘所说经》Chapter One [On The] Buddha Land (佛国品第一), there is the incident of beings in this defiled land (秽土) having sight of it as a Pure Land (净土), as empowered by Śākyamuni Buddha (释迦牟尼佛). It is as recorded, with notes below.


[Śākyamuni Buddha]: Therefore, Treasure Accumulation [i.e. Ratnarāśi], if Bodhisattvas desire [to] attain Pure Lands, [they] should purify their minds. According [to] that mind’s purity, thus [is the] Buddha land pure.’

[Note 1: For each defiled being, as pure as one’s mind is, as pure will the land one is in be. Likewise, as defiled as one’s mind is, as defiled will the land be too. As these two principles function in a mixed way, the land experienced is neither completely pure nor defiled. At both ends of the ‘spectrum’ of experience, while Buddhas experience completely pure lands with their completely purified minds, hell-beings experience extremely defiled lands with their extremely defiled minds. All other beings are in between. (See chart below for details.)]

[Note 2: There are differences between (i) ‘attaining a Pure Land’ (得净土) and (ii) ‘attaining birth in a Pure Land’ (得生净土). (i) The first is to create one’s own Pure Land, while (ii) the second is to be reborn in another Buddha’s already existing Pure Land.]

[Note 3: To (ii) experience a Buddha’s actual Pure Land, there is no need to completely purify one’s mind, to (i) create one’s own Pure Land first. For example, to reach Amitābha Buddha’s (阿弥陀佛) Pure Land, the Three Provisions (三资粮) of Faith, Aspiration and Practice (信愿行) of mindfulness of Buddha (念佛) are the minimum criteria needed.]

[Note 4: If there is need to (i) create one’s own Pure Land first, to experience a Pure Land, which is not true, there would be no need to (ii) attain birth in a Pure Land, which is also for learning how to (i) create one’s own Pure Land – for delivering other beings, especially those with more affinity with oneself.]


At that time, Śariputra received [the] Buddha’s majestic supernormal [power to] have this thought, ‘If [with a] Bodhisattva’s mind’s purity, thus [is] that Buddha land pure, when our World-Honoured [One was] originally as [a] Bodhisattva, how [could it be that his] mind [was] not pure, then [with] this Buddha land not pure, like this?’

[Note 5: Śariputra, the Buddha’s monastic Voice-Hearer (声闻) disciple foremost in wisdom, was also primarily spoken to in the Amitābha Sūtra《阿弥陀经》, to introduce him and the assembly to the Pure Land teachings connected to Amitābha Buddha.]


[The] Buddha knew his thought, [and] immediately told [him], saying, ‘What [do you] think of [this]? How [can it be that the] sun [and] moon [are] not pure [with light]? Yet blind ones [do] not see [it].’


[In] reply said, ‘No, World-Honoured [One. It] is [the] blind ones’ fault, not [the] sun’s [or] moon’s mistake.’


‘Śariputra, [it is] sentient beings’ transgression thus, [that they do] not see [the] Thus Come [One’s] land’s majesty [and] purity, not [the] Thus Come [One’s] mistake. Śariputra, my this land [is] pure, yet you [do] not see [it].’

[Note 6: In other words, just as the sun and moon are objectively bright to those who can see them; not subjectively dark, the Buddha’s land is objectively pure to the Buddha; not subjectively defiled.]


At that time, Coiled Topknot Brahmā King said [to] Śariputra, ‘[Do] not have this thought, [when] thinking [of] this Buddha land, assuming [it is] not pure. Why [is] that so? I see Śākyamuni Buddha’s land [to be] pure, for example, [like Great] Ease’s [i.e. Maheśvara] heavenly palace.’

[Note 7: As the Brahmā King was a Form Realm (色界) heavenly being (天人), perhaps to help us relate to the land seen, as our human path (人道) is in the Desire Realm (欲界), he compared what he saw with the highest Desire Realm’s heaven. What seen was according to his own subjective perception, as he was not yet a Buddha, while actual Pure Lands transcend all Three Realms (三界) with their purity. (See chart below for details.)]


Śariputra said, ‘I see this land [with] rolling hills uneven, thistles, thorns, sand, gravel, soil, rocks [and] all mountains, [with] filth filled fully.’


Coiled Topknot Brahmā King said, ‘[As the] Benevolent One’s mind has highs [and] lows, not relying [on the] Buddha’s wisdom, thus seeing this land as not pure only. Śariputra, Bodhisattvas, [if] of all sentient beings, [have] all equally [regarded, with the] profound mind purely, relying [on the] Buddha’s wisdom, [they are] thus able [to] see this Buddha land [to be] pure.’

[Note 8: The unevenness of this defiled land seen reflects lack of equanimity in the mind, due to delusional attachment and aversion.]


Thereupon, [the] Buddha with [a] foot’s toe, pressed [onto the] ground. Immediately, [the] three-thousandfold great-thousandfold world, [was with] several hundred thousands [of] precious treasures adorned. For example, like [those of] Treasure Adornment Buddha, [with] immeasurable meritorious virtues’ treasures adorning [the] land, [that] all [in the] great assembly praised, [to be] never before [seen]. And all personally saw [themselves] seated [on] treasure lotus flowers.

[Note 9: The Buddha’s action expressed empowerment, to enable the assembly to see the whole world system of this Sahā World (娑婆世界), to resemble a Pure Land. This form of Pure Land, as seen by all Buddhas with their complete purity and immeasurable meritorious virtues, is that seen without the defilements of this defiled land, as usually seen by defiled beings. (See chart below for details.) The meritorious virtues do not belong to the land itself, but the Buddha, as expressed through him.]


[The] Buddha told Śariputra, ‘[Do] you also see this Buddha land’s majesty [and] purity?’


Śariputra said, ‘It is so, World-Honoured [One. Of] that originally not seen, that originally not heard, now [has the] Buddha land’s majesty [and] purity all appeared.’


[The] Buddha told Śariputra, ‘My Buddha land, [is] constantly pure like this. For desiring [to] deliver these lowly [and] inferior people thus, [I] manifested [in] this impure land [with] much filth only. For example, like all heavenly [beings], together [with] treasure vessels eating, according [to] their blessed virtues, [their] rice’s colours have differences. Like this, Śariputra, if [a] person’s mind [is] pure, then [will one] see this land’s meritorious virtues’ adornments.’

[Note 10: To corroborate the above translated by Great Master Kumārajīva (鸠摩罗什大师), the following is Great Master Xuánzàng’s (玄奘大师) translation of the same teaching, from the alternatively titled Sūtra Spoken [By] Undefiled Name《说无垢称经》-


[The] Buddha told Śariputra, ‘My Buddha land [is] constantly pure like this. For desiring [to] mature lowly [and] inferior sentient [beings], therefore manifested [in this] immeasurable faults [and] mixed defilements’ land only. Śariputra, for example, like [the] Thirty-Three Heaven’s [beings] together [with] treasure vessels eating, according [with their] karma, their that attracted food has differences. Thus, Śariputra, immeasurable sentient beings [in each] one Buddha land, according [with their] minds’ purity [and] defilements, that seen has differences. If [a] person’s mind [is] pure, then seeing this land’s immeasurable meritorious virtues’ wonderful treasures’ adornments.’

To further corroborate the above, the following is Great Master Xuánzàng’s chief disciple Great Master Kuījī’s (窥基大师) explanation in the Commentary [On The] Sūtra Spoken [By] Undefiled Name《说无垢称经疏》-

净者本圣者土。神力令余下劣有情,亦得变净。由此,秽者本是下劣有情之土。圣者随之,亦为秽。此诸身土。… 自识异识,所变净秽。如《唯识论》,并应分别。

That pure [is] originally noble ones’ land. [With] supernormal power enabling other lowly [and] inferior sentient beings, also attaining changes [to be] pure. Due [to] this, that defiled originally is lowly [and] inferior sentient beings’ land. Those noble according [with] it, also are ‘defiled’ [in manifestation]. All these bodies [and] lands… [are with] personal consciousnesses’ different consciousnesses, that change [to be] pure [and] defiled. Like [that in the] Mind-Only Treatise, completely responding [with] differences.]

[Note 11: ‘示是众恶不净土’ is sometimes translated along the line of – ‘manifested all this filth (恶秽) (or even “evil” [恶]) in this impure land’, with rationalisation that this is to spur defiled beings to realise their defiled predicament, so as to be more diligent in seeking liberation. Such an interpretation proposes that (iii) all that is not pure in this land is manifested by the Buddha, instead of (iv) the Buddha manifesting in this land amidst all that is not pure. However, (iii) does not accord with the Dharma due to these 14 reasons –

(a) No Buddhas will be creators or sustainers of the defiled, which will make them evil instead of pure. And if they are evil, they cannot be Buddhas.

(b) All Buddhas are creators and sustainers of the purified rewards in their Pure Lands. They also continually seek to ‘purify’ all defiled lands, never to defile any Pure Lands.

(c) This defiled land is already defiled by the defiled beings here. Thus, we do not collectively karmically deserve experience of this defiled land as a Pure Land (without a Buddha’s time-limited empowerment). This land’s defilements are karmically natural – karmically created and karmically sustained by us; not the Buddha.

Defiled lands condition most of their beings to become more defiled; not more pure. Knowing that defiled conditions are physically and spiritually discouraging, the Buddhas encourage all to seek birth in Pure Lands. We should thus cultivate to ‘have revulsed renunciation of the Sahā World, and joyfully seek the Land Of Ultimate Bliss (厌离娑婆,欣求极乐).

(e) If this defiled land does spur defiled beings to become more diligent in seeking liberation, this land should not continue to enter deeper into this Dharma-Ending Age (末法时期), within this Five Defilements’ (五浊) Evil Period (恶世), as warned by the Buddha.

 If creating and sustaining a defiled land is skiful for spurring beings towards liberation, the hells, which are the most defiled, ‘should’ be the best places for realising the path. This is not so, as the Buddhas warn against falling into the hells.

 If a defiled land better motivates our purification than a Pure Land, this land ‘should’ be made more defiled, even more hellish. This is not so, as the Buddhas seek to lessen and remove suffering; not increase and sustain it.

(h) If defiled lands are the most skilful places for realising the path, the hells then become as skilful as Pure Lands. This is clearly not so, as the hells are the polar opposites of Pure Lands.

 If this defiled land is actually a Pure Land for all its defiled beings, and if the Buddha did not create and sustain its defiled nature, this would mean that the Buddha did and continues to defile an already Pure Land, which is impossible and counter-productive for the goal of expediting progress to Buddhahood, which is the swiftest via Pure Lands.

 In defiled lands, the ability for the Buddhas to offer spiritual motivation by positive or ‘negative’ means to defiled beings depends mainly on the recipients’ personal karma. This means that the Buddha cannot impose a defiled land upon its inhabitants to ‘motivate’ them.

(k) What the Buddha taught is that his (l) actual Pure Land elsewhere is pure, like that he gave a glimpse of, (which is all the defiled beings then could have), from which he manifested to this defiled land (out of great compassion), to deliver severely defiled beings in this defiled land. Using the example of heavenly beings each according to their karma eating different food, the Buddha affirmed that if one’s mind is to whatever extent pure, one will see one’s land’s adornments accordingly. (The Buddha never taught that this defiled land is actually pure by default for defiled beings, as it is completely pure only to completely purified beings – Buddhas.)

(l) According to the Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra《大般涅槃经》, prior to Śākyamuni Buddha’s remanifestations in our world, he already attained Buddhahood elsewhere and established his Pure Land – ‘[To the] Western [direction] from this Sahā World, passing thirty-two Ganges River’s sands [of] many other Buddha Lands, there is [a] world named “Unsurpassable”… I, from that land appeared in [this] life, for transforming sentient beings thus, in this world [of] Jambudvīpa within, appearing [to] turn [the] Dharma wheel.’ (西方去此娑婆世界,度三十二恒河沙等诸佛国土,彼有世界名曰无胜。… 我于彼土出现于世,为化众生故,于此界阎浮提中,现转法轮。)

(m) A Manifestation Body (化身) of a Buddha only appears in a defiled land, while the Buddha’s Reward Body (报身) only appears in his Pure Land. Thus, as we defiled beings do not see the Buddha’s Reward Body here, we are in a defiled land; not a Pure Land.

(n) The key points above are also reflected in the Pure Land Tradition’s 6th Patriarch Great Master Yǒngmíng (净土宗六祖永明大师) in the Essential Mirror’s Record’s《宗镜录》Scroll Twenty-One (卷第二十一) –

【维摩】经云:「为欲度斯下劣人故,示是众恶不净土耳。」… 地前凡夫一切有漏心。所现净土,是有漏,故名体秽。以依如来清净佛土,自识变似净土相现,名相净。… 身土唯心。但将世间所见所闻之法验之,自然可解。且如河岳不灵,为人所感。何者?土木瓦石,岂有所知?皆精志在人,从识所变,或非人所附,俱不出心。… 全是人心之所变,真唯识义之所成。如笃善则天堂现前,习恶则火车盈侧,命富则珠珍溢藏,业贫则茆土攒身。但以宗镜照之,万事难逃影响矣。

[The Vimalakīrti] Sūtra says, ‘For desiring [to] deliver these lowly [and] inferior people thus, [I] manifested [in] this impure land [with] much filth only.’… [O]rdinary beings, before [ascending on the] grounds [towards Buddhahood], all have minds with outflows. Those manifested “Pure Lands”, are with outflows, thus named [as with] “essence defiled”. With relying [on the] Thus Come [Ones’] Pure Lands, [with] personal consciousnesses changing [to] resemble [theirs, with] Pure Lands’ forms manifesting, [this is] named [as with] “forms pure”… [The] body [i.e. direct reward (正报)] [and] land (i.e. circumstantial rewards (依报)] [are] mind-only. Only with that seen [and] heard of [in the] world, [with the] Dharma examining them, [this] naturally can [be] understood. Moreover, like rivers [and] mountains, [they are] not efficacious, [but] by humans those influenced. Why? [Of the] land, trees, tiles [and] rocks, how can [they] have that known? All sincere will depends [on] people, from [their] consciousnesses that change, perhaps [to] non-humans those attached, together not transcending [the] mind… [This] completely is [with the] person’s mind that changes, truly [with] consciousness-only’s meaning [with] that accomplished. Like [the] sincere [and] good [are] then [with] heavens manifesting presently, [those with] habits evil [are] then [with] fire trains filling [their] sides, [those with] lives rich [are] then [with] precious pearls overflowing [their] treasuries, [and those with] livelihoods poor [are] then [with] thatch [and] soil collected [on their] bodies. Only with [the] essential mirror [of truth] reflecting this, [the] ten thousand matters [have] difficulty escaping [from its] influence.]


[When the] Buddha manifested this land’s majesty [and] purity, Treasure Accumulation [and] those five hundred elders’ sons led, all attained Non-Arising [Of] Dharmas’ Forbearance, [and] eighty-four thousand humans all gave rose [to the] Anuttara Samyak Saṃbodhi mind.

[Note 12: The sight of the Pure Land, gave rise to insight, non-retrogression and aspiration for Buddhahood (佛果).]


[When the] Buddha gathered [his] supernormal foot, thereupon, [the] world returned again, [to] as before. [Those who] sought [the] Voice-Hearer [i.e. Śrāvaka] Vehicle, [with] all thirty-two thousand heavenly and human [beings], knew [that] conditioned dharmas, [are] all impermanent, far departed [from] dusts [and] defilements, [and] attained [the] Dharma eye’s purity. Eight thousand Bhikṣus, not receiving [attachment to] all dharmas, [had their] outflows ended, [with their] minds liberated.

[Note 13: By the time sight of the Pure Land concluded, even more gave rise to insight, from the First Fruit (初果) to Arhathood (罗汉果) (i.e. self-liberation). Due to limited meritorious virtues of the assembly, it was not possible for the Buddha to unceasingly sustain sight of the Pure Land for those present. If he could, this land would already be an actual Pure Land for us all.]

[Note 14: In the main Pure Land Sūtras (净土经), there are two incidents of beings in this defiled land (秽土) having sight of Amitābha Buddha’s (阿弥陀佛) Pure Land, as empowered by Śākyamuni Buddha (释迦牟尼佛). For more on this, see]

[Note 15: For comparative study, in the Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sūtra《妙法莲华经》, the Buddha spoke of Mount Gṛdhrakūṭa (耆阇崛山), which is also called Spirit Vulture Mountain (灵鹫山), as his Pure Land. Of course, it can extend to the rest of this world system too, as taught above. For more on this, see]

Namo Amituofo : Translation and notes by Shen Shi’an

Related Teachings:

Why Pure Land Bodhisattvas Are Able To Safely Manifest In Defiled Lands

Sight Of Amitābha Buddha’s Pure Land In This Defiled Land

Śākyamuni Buddha’s Pure Land On Spirit Vulture Mountain (And Related Pure Land Concepts)

Three Pure Land Questions About The Lotus Sūtra

Did Śākyamuni Buddha First Attain Buddhahood Here?

Does Śākyamuni Buddha Have His Own Pure Land?

How Pure Lands Transcend The Three Realms

Where Is Āmítuófó’s Pure Land?

How Are Śākyamuni Buddha And Amitābha Buddha Related?

How The Buddha Is Gone Yet Not Gone For Good

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